blarg?

Lilacs

I don’t know why I keep following links to Daring Fireball. Morbid fascination, I guess? But somehow I keep checking in now and then to see if he’s finally worked his way through all the copy-paste-and-one-line-of-snark he can live with, the methadone formula that drips through his blog and keeps him from cooking up the hit of a post we all kind of expect to see there one morning when he finally gives in to his demons.

“Lately, people have been telling me I’m wrong to give my life-sized cardboard cutout of Steve Jobs a head-to-foot tongue bath twice a day. They’re wrong; here’s why it’s brilliant. And necessary.”

Maybe I’m the only person who expects that? Could be, could be. But his signature style, if that’s the right word, can be pretty irritating – he copies and pastes so much, and says so little more than a sneer himself, that he can always deny that he meant anything by any of it.

Anyway, this will be the last time I mention it. I don’t want to spend any more time than I have reading a site that calls itself “Daring Fireball” and cranks out eminently predictable fluff day after day. But I though I’d point a thing out from back in 2006; sometime before he decided that drinking the kool-aid wasn’t as much fun as swimming laps in it, he said:

There’s an unbecoming tendency for some Mac users to contort their worldview in such a way so as to construe that Mac OS X is better than every other OS in every single way, or that its overall superiority ought to be obvious to everyone. This actually was true, or very nearly so, in the System 6 era of the late ’80s, but it certainly hasn’t been true since then; sticking to this notion just makes you look like a small-minded jackass.

True enough, true enough. But then in 2010, here we are. He quotes a work about Stanley Kubrick,

His eccentricities — secretiveness, a great need for privacy — are caused by his intense awareness of time’s relentless passage. He wants to use time to “create a string of masterpieces”, as an acquaintance puts it. Social status means nothing to him, money is simply a tool of his trade. Reminds me of someone else.

… where by “someone else”, he clearly means the subject of his cardboardy affection. He was right, back then – it is an unbecoming contortion, and I don’t think I’m going to spend any more time watching it happen.

Walking home from an excellent dinner the other day the subject of the Name or True Name came up, a recurring idea in most fantasy literature; the idea that you have one True Name, pronounced just so, is both Yours and which has Power over you. It’s something that’s come up a lot in my thinking lately, as both a parent and as a sysadmin; part of my job, in both cases, is the granting of names.

Ominous

As a parent, the Name is something you hammer into your kid, over and over again, all the time. Whether it’s good or bad or encouraging or get away from there or don’t touch that, you always start with the name, and then the rest; Maya well done, Maya don’t do this, Maya we’re proud of you, Maya stop. For sysadmins, in contrast, naming machines is an underappreciated responsibility; machines develop personalities if you’re not careful, idiosyncrasies built on a history of patch levels, shifting roles, legacy software, environmental conditions and the habits and discipline of their administrators. In that sense as with parenting the subject is a living, evolving Rorshach test, ultimately becoming those things it is shown, and the ways it is treated.

If you’ve got a small shop, it’s OK if machines get a little quirky; resources get repurposed, your air isn’t always cool and dry, power isn’t always clean and sometimes you’ve got to put long-retired, senescent old warhorses back on the front lines because it’s turned into that kind of war. But in a big installation that’s something you just can’t afford, and we put thousands of hours of planning effort into preventing machines from getting finicky; those machines are culled from the herd fast, because idiosyncratic machines are a sign of deep-seated systemic problems. And when those problems finally surface they’re inevitably going to be horrible.

The Flight Out

And to some extent, the Name is the seed of all that; a machine called HP-WWW-DEV-RH4-R5-S11-A simply isn’t going to be permitted to develop a personality; it’s going to get treated very differently than a repurposed workstation called “Snorklewhacker”. And it occurs to me just now that maybe that’s the deeper reason for the old myth that you should never rename a boat; not so much that you shouldn’t rename it as you shouldn’t dramatically change your behavior towards it, forcing the hardware to bend and stress in ways it’s never had to before.

So I’m increasingly finding myself feeling very cautious about the tone of voice I use with Maya, particularly when I’m trying to teach her her own name at the same time as I’m trying to teach her not to throw food on the floor or herself down the stairs. She needs to know her name; it’s my responsibility to make sure she does. But it’s a Name, it’s hers, and it’s not to be invoked lightly or something she should be taught to fear; parents don’t exactly have the luxury of a bare-metal reinstall or cheap upgrades, it turns out.

Toque!

Maya tried to change what my Gameboy was doing today by flicking her finger across the screen. She’s already figured out how to use my iPhone and keyboard, though for relatively marginal and sporadically destructive things, but it turns out there’s enough keyboard shortcuts on this thing that she inevitably finds a few of them. Sometimes they’re even things I’ve never seen before and don’t know how to undo, which is exciting.

Maya, six weeks ago I showed you how to climb stairs, one leg at a time. For a month now that’s been easy for you. You’ve already fallen down some stairs too, but a few moments of fussing and you were back to yourself; five minutes later you tried again. It looks like you’ve inherited the stubborn streak both your parents have, which will serve you very well most of the time and extraordinarily poorly at least once or twice.

A few weeks ago after I put you to bed, I spoke to my parents; you’d think this is no big deal, and you’d almost be right, but I spoke to them via Skype, that my mom runs off her iPod and the hotel’s free wifi in Peru. A phone wasn’t even part of the equation. But hey, nothing to it, right? (Is actual external hardware and wifi kind of gross, by the time you can read this? It’s hard to tell.) I probably spent more money on long distance phone calls (audio only, naturally) during university than clothes; these days, having breakfast with your grandmother 500 miles away via video call is something we do three times a week.

The thing that is just killing me here is that by the time you’re eight years old all of this stuff will be so antiquated it might as well be powered by coal. You will take it completely and utterly for granted; pervasive global communication will have been freely available at very nearly no cost for the entirety of your existence.

I think the thing that shocks me the most is that you’ll be entirely in the right.

Hello?

Your dad might be flattering himself here but he secretly suspects that he’s somewhere up in the top tenth of a percent of the world in terms of understanding how this stuff works, six or seven standard deviations away from your guy in the street, and in truth he’s probably not far wrong. It’s some pretty rarefied air up here. But at some point he will still be struggling to explain to you how miraculous this stuff you’re bored of or annoyed with is.

When I was your age, young lady, when I was your age, the stuff you take completely and utterly for granted wasn’t even science fiction yet. But that doesn’t matter, and it will probably be true for your kids too, and that won’t matter either as long as you can stay on top of it. And that’s really what I want for you, is that you keep climbing.

A Church

This evening I’ll be deleting my facebook profile; I was asked why, though, so I want to hang this out for a bit beforehand to let people on Facebook know.

There are a couple of reasons for this; I outlined the dramatic changes in their privacy policy the other day, which have since been presented in a much more visual way here, and that trend isn’t slowing down.

Since then, though, a few other things have come up. The least of these is that in addition to what Facebook has done on purpose, it turns they’ve done a surprising number of pretty miserable things by accident.

The second most important reason was the ideas that have been rattling around in my head after watching this talk by Merlin Mann, which is eminently worthwhile. I think a lot of things about it, but the relevant one is that without even considering the threat-modeling aspects of it, Facebook just isn’t a good time-value tradeoff anymore.

Hello again?

The most important thing, though, is something my staunchly eminent friend and general-purpose good person Mike Shaver said. That he asked himself, what would it take for me to delete my Facebook profile? Would it have to be worse than this? And if so, do I want to be around when that worse thing happens? Which is a variation of a question I’ve heard before, in a different context, that is getting more important to me every day. If not now, when?

Ok, then. Now.

There are people that I consider to be good friends that I’ve never met and in many cases likely never will; you know who you are, I hope. I’m not going to pretend that “friends” is a meatspace-only definition; I know the future isn’t like that, because I care about those people. But I also don’t think I’m going to participate in any more systems that treat relationships, appreciation, affinity or contact as binary conditions. I’m not just your friend or not. I don’t just like things or don’t, and I don’t want to participate in systems that treat my life like an elaborate graph of false dichotomies. I’d like to think my relationships are a little more nuanced than the light in my fridge.

So, if you’re just interested in my writing, you can follow that here on my blog, or the short-form stuff on Twitter. My photos go to Flickr, as per usual. If you like, send me some email! I don’t even need to know you for any of that to work, but I’d be glad to hear from you either way.

In any case; good luck, Facebook people. If you need me, I’ll be over here with the internet. It’s messier, sure, but it’s also bigger and way, way better than this.

Update: Done.